The Cause of the Poor
1. This proverb speaks about the “cause” of the poor and the response from two different groups in the land of Israel: the righteous and the wicked.
2. In John 12:8, Jesus said, “For the poor always ye have with you.”
3. And even though we are a wealthy country, we have the poor in our society too.
4. Thus, the reactions that Solomon observed towards the poor in his day have great application to today.
1. The interpretation of this proverb revolves around the meaning of the word translated “cause.”
a. The term has various shades of meaning.
b. It can mean: “Throne of judgment,” judgment and justice; legal case; cause; argument.
2. The question in interpreting the proverb is, does the term refer to their cause as a legal case (their rights in court) or does it refer to their cause in a moral sense (the issue of poverty).
a. If we interpret the Hebrew word (din) as “a legal case” (their cause before the judge in a courtroom), then the proverb speaks about the importance of defending the legal rights of the poor.
• Some translations have taken that route:
» ESV: “A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.”
» NET: “The righteous person cares for the legal rights of the poor; the wicked does not understand such knowledge.”
b. If we interpret the Hebrew word (din) as the “cause” of the poor in a more generic sense (the issue of the poor; the moral argument of the poor or debate about the poor), then the proverb speaks about the need to be concerned about the poverty of the poor.
• Most of the older translations left the term more generic, as did the KJV – the “cause” of the poor.
3. It seems best to understand Solomon’s use of the term in a more generic sense which would make application of the proverb broader and include both situations, legal and moral.
a. The Hebrew term (din) does imply a sense of justice.
b. But the concept of justice (though it fits perfectly into the context of a legal setting), is much broader than the courtroom, and should be applied in all areas of life.
c. Understanding this term in a broad, generic sense means that this proverb can and should be applied to the “cause of the poor” in the courtroom—but also in the streets, and in the poor neighborhoods of the cities, and in the halls of Congress, and perhaps in the house right next door.
4. The next term to define is the word translated “considereth.”
a. Dictionary of Biblical Languages: To have knowledge; information that implies wisdom and skill in judgment; knowledge about a person, with a focus on relationship.
b. It can mean to know; to be acquainted with; to be aware of; to perceive; to discern; to recognize; to pay attention to. (This seems to be the meaning in our proverb.)
c. Solomon is speaking about someone recognizing the cause of the poor; being aware of their cause; acknowledging their cause; to pay attention to their cause;
5. “Considering” the legal rights of the poor in the courtroom.
a. The “poor” refers to those with few financial resources; the weak; the lowly.
b. A righteous man will pay attention to their situation in legal proceedings against them.
c. A righteous man is concerned about the fact that the weak and the poor are often abused in a legal setting.
d. The wealthy can hire the best lawyers, but the poor cannot. As a result they are often exploited.
e. The wealthy often have friends in high places that will put in a good word for them. They may even know the judge.
f. But the poor don’t have such friends in court.
g. As a result, the poor often are treated unfairly. Justice is not executed in their case… and usually nobody cares.
h. Solomon states in this proverb that a righteous man WILL care. He will consider their cause in court. He will be concerned that the weak and the poor are not abused and oppressed in the court system… and that they are not blamed for crimes they didn’t commit.
i. This has always been a problem – from Solomon’s to our day: wealthy get let off the hook for crimes they did commit and the poor go to prison for crimes they didn’t commit.
j. That is injustice in the legal setting.
k. This proverb states that a righteous man will oppose that. He will consider (pay attention to; demand justice for) the poor.
l. Their cause may fall on deaf ears in the general population—but not with righteous men.
m. The righteous man is concerned about the legal rights of the poor – that they not be oppressed by the strong and wealthy in society.
n. The righteous considereth the cause of the poor…
6. “Considering” the moral cause of the poor:
a. Considering the “cause” of the poor from a moral sense rather than legal brings up the issue of the poverty itself.
b. A righteous man will be aware of the issue of poverty.
c. A righteous man will be concerned about the plight of the poor.
d. A righteous man is sympathetic towards their needs.
e. A righteous man will not only be aware of their cause, but will seek to DO something about it.
f. I John 3:17 – “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?”
g. Righteous men have hearts for the poor and needy.
• Sympathy towards the poor is an acknowledgement of the grace of God in our lives.
• It acknowledges: “there but for the grace of God go I.”
h. We know that the poor will always be here; but when God brings a situation to our doorstep—especially a brother in Christ—the love of God demands that we respond.
i. There is a special BLESSING upon those who consider the cause of the poor and help:
• Ps. 41:1 – “Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble.” (Read vs.2-4 – God will take care of those who consider the poor.)
1. What a contrast between the righteous and the wicked.
a. The righteous man regards the cause of the poor… the rights of the poor legally as well as caring about their plight… poverty.
b. The wicked man chooses not to regard it. He ignores it.
c. He chooses to look the other way – like the priest and the Levite who saw the man beaten on the side of the road, and crossed to the other side so they wouldn’t have to consider his cause… while the good Samaritan stopped to help.
2. God warns the wicked of his wicked ways in Psalm 1:6 – “For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”
3. Just as there is a blessing for considering the poor, there is also a curse for ignoring their plight.
a. Prov. 21:13 – “Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.”
• Stopping one’s ears implies he has full knowledge, but refuses to listen… or see their plight.
• The wicked will stop his ears to their cries.
4. Prov. 14:31 – “He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker: but he that honoureth him hath mercy on the poor.”
a. God takes that seriously.
b. When the rich and powerful trample over the poor and the weak, God notices.
• What is His estimate? It is like reproaching Him personally…
• He is the Maker of both the rich and the poor.
• Note the reverse in this proverb: He who honors God will show mercy to the poor. Showing mercy to the poor is a way to honor God.
• Compassion for others flows out of a heart that is in a right relationship to the Lord.
5. Consider the contrast between Shallum (also known as – Jehoahaz) and his father Josiah, king of Judah with respect to the treatment of the poor.
a. Jer. 22:15-17 – “Shalt thou reign, because thou closest thyself in cedar? did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice, and then it was well with him? 16He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know me? saith the LORD. 17But thine eyes and thine heart are not but for thy covetousness, and for to shed innocent blood, and for oppression, and for violence, to do it.”
b. Josiah was a godly king… he defended the rights of the poor and provided for their needs.
c. On the other hand, his son Shallum was an ungodly (wicked) king. He did not consider the cause of the poor; he oppressed them and took advantage of them.
• He ended up in captivity in Egypt.
• Vs. 18-19 – Jeremiah predicted that no one would mourn his death. There would be no lavish burial… but it would be like the burial of a donkey!
6. God is watching. God is still aware of the fact that “the righteous considereth the cause of the poor: but the wicked regardeth not to know it.”